Dune is getting released on HBO Max and in theaters at the same time. People that aren’t members of NATO or heirs to theatrical exhibition chains have opinions about this for some reason. I’m all for anything that gives Middle America a chance to see movies before some shitty barista with a blog. I’m looking at you, every third person that lives in Los Feliz.
Part 1: David Lynch was right.
Dune is a hard movie to adapt. Growing up as part of the generation that saw the Alan Smithee cut more on television repeat, it’s kind of hard to have reverence for the material. Now, I knew a few late stage boomers and early Gen Xers that loved these books like people love Lord of the Rings. But, they always seemed odd. What about this desert epic spoke to them?
Part 2: Timothee Chalamet would be an incredible Antichrist
There is something about Timothee Chalamet that defies logic. It’s the fact that others can’t look at him and see Damien Thorne. All throughout Dune, I kept seeing the future demonic President of the United State, but I know that I’m not going to get others on my desire to see an Omen III remake on Disney Plus. But, there’s something about his look.
Some Herbert fans will decree that Paul Atreides should be of a certain age in the book. These are the same people that scream about how Kyle MacLachlan is too old or how they hate Toto now. But, there’s something to Chalamet that suggests evil or mutant. I didn’t see it with Alec Newman or James McAvoy in previous outings. But, they all came across as much older.
Dune insists upon its setup and that’s going to ruin Part 1 for a lot of people. World building takes time and Dune Part 1 does its best to get about 80% of the work done.
Part 3: If Space Opera is high art, then let’s burn it all down now
While people love to whine about Marvel and DC movies, I feel space opera saturation has had longer to water down the world. Dune has always been held up as an example of bloated space opera. When people refute this point, they come from a place of having only seen the first story play out. It wasn’t until the early 00s when SyFy attempted to create TV-movies for the subsequent books that the wheels began to fall off.
Let it be said, I preferred those TV productions a lot more than what we had seen on film. James McAvoy was good enough as Leto II and I enjoyed the first film’s Paul Atreides, it’s just what else past that? Do I need to hear a Paul do the best Teen Wolf scary voice to command others to do his bidding?
Not really. There comes a point in the life of any film viewer who has been watching mainstream Sci-Fi fare for the last 40 years that all of this becomes the same thing. It’s a blend of predestination with chosen Messiah themes and you get an X-Factor sprinkled in enough to keep it from becoming a Maze Runner movie.
Part 4: It’s The Love Boat, if it was shot by Dave Filoni
I love giant impressive casts. However, I also like narratives that invite audiences into new worlds and gives them enough to make a story. When you don’t do that, you get an episode of The Love Boat.
Dune has characters weave in and out of the movie so much that I almost wanted Alan Smithee cards to explain what was happening to fellow viewers who aren’t down to clown with Dune. Herbert writes these dense looks into the world of 10,000 whatever and with little hand-holding.
While that might get your nerd senses tingling, that stuff is poison to casual audiences. Does that mean Dune should bend the knee to accommodate audiences that barely stop looking at their phones to watch a movie? Of course not! However, it means creating a film that doesn’t require intimate knowledge of the book.
Part 5: Has a Villeneuve film been a box office success?
It’s easy to slap director Denis Villeneuve with the box office failure brush. But, his movies end up making a profit. I think Sicario was an out of the gate success, but I’m not the biggest Box Office scholar. Yet, it’s the first area I hear detractors of the guy try to attack when discussing his work outside of fandom. Although, the digs at being a Nolan without the legwork are also creeping up now.
Honestly, I think it’s a breath of fresh air that you have someone like Villeneuve handling Dune. It could have easily been a studio friendly guy or gal shooting a paint by numbers movie that got met with a nil audience. But, it takes some balls to release half of a story and then pray that the numbers hold up to make the next movie.
Some are quick to blame Legendary and Warner Brothers for that part. The more I dwell on it, it seems a necessity to tell the story of a properly aging Paul Atreides. Spending lengthy time on desert training doesn’t exactly get an audience’s crank going, but neither does ending a nearly 3 hour movie on a knife fight.
Hell, even West Side Story tacked a music number after that point.
Part 6: Never half ass a job
The choice to split Dune into two parts can be spun in many ways. It’s a financial necessity, a symptom of the overall COVID-19 pandemic and a crafted storytelling position. All the while, fans will be happy for any Dune they can get, while mainstream audiences will wonder where they can find the rest of the story.
I see dozens upon dozens of nerds trying to get their friends and loved ones to read the Dune books this Christmas, only to be met by glazed over eyes and lack of interest. To those people, I say give it a chance. One of the kids becomes a worm.
That being said, don’t give me half a story and expect a full graded response. If Dune holds up its legs, we’ll come back to appreciate the film after Part 2 is done.